Wright decision weighs on Astros
Lefty's potential may land Rule 5 pick in Houston's bullpen
TAMPA, Fla. -- Wesley Wright has never had a better chance to make the Major Leagues than this season.
The question is, will the 23-year-old left-hander take advantage of the opportunity events have placed before him?
With a dearth of lefties in their bullpen, the Astros can only hope Wright will deliver.
"I've been battling. I haven't really reached my full potential yet," Wright said. "I'm still trying to get acclimated and just get used to what I'm doing out there each and every day. I honestly feel that it's coming around to where I'm getting where I want to be."
The eighth player selected in December's Rule 5 Draft, Wright came to the Astros after spending the past four years in the Dodgers' system. He was 6-2 with a 2.49 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings at Double-A Jacksonville last season and 1-2 with a 9.18 ERA in 14 games for Triple-A Las Vegas.
His disappointing showing in Las Vegas convinced many observers that Wright needed more seasoning. By taking him in the Draft, the Astros clearly weren't in agreement with that assessment.
The Rule 5 Draft provides an opportunity for any player not on a 40-man roster who has spent at least three years with a Minor League contract to be drafted by another team. Such players can be drafted by another team for $50,000, with the selecting team obligated to keep the player on its Major League roster for the entire subsequent season or offer the player back to the original club for $25,000.
The money is one thing. The lack of lefties -- Mark McLemore and non-roster invitees Josh Muecke and Stephen Randolph are the only other southpaws in camp besides Wright and starter Wandy Rodriguez -- is another. And an above-average curveball is a third factor at play in Wright's roster chances.
"We're kind of short left-handed, so we'll give him an opportunity," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "That's not to say we're not going to give the others the same opportunity, but he's a little more intriguing because he's a young guy. He's really not our guy, but he's got to make us see whether we want to keep him.
"He's shown some progress out there. I'm pleased with what I've seen. He's one of those kids who is eager. He wants to learn. He's not making excuses, and he's receptive to what [pitching coach] Dewey [Robinson] has been teaching him and talking to him about."
In his first three Grapefruit League appearances, Wright went a combined three innings against the Indians, Yankees and Rays. The lefty gave up an earned run in his first outing against Cleveland, but he hasn't given up an earned run since. He's struck out two and walked five.
Cooper dismissed his first-outing struggles as the result of nervousness. Wright agreed and said he has been more comfortable with each appearance.
"He's coming along, there's a young man with a good arm. [He's] just got to get over that nervousness and just get over the hump a little bit," Cooper said. "His fastball has life, just need to see him be a little more consistent in the zone with his fastball."
Cooper, a former Rule 5 draftee himself, said Wright's status as a Rule 5 choice will be a factor when it comes to deciding whether he makes the team.
"It has to play in there a little bit, because this is a guy that potentially could be a guy for us that, if it's not this year or later this year, than at some point in the future," Cooper said. "We would like to possibly keep him. And how can you do it [unless you] keep him on the roster?
"He just needs to get over the hump. I understand that. Heck, I was in the big leagues for three years before I got over the hump."
Wright's mechanics make it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. His fastball, when he commands it, is Major League. The fastball control is key. When he has it, it makes Wright's curveball even harder to hit.
Wright, who also throws a slider and changeup, clearly has a repertoire to make it in The Show. All he needs is to show it consistently. No one knows that better than Wright.
"There's been a lot more attention put on me because of that [Rule 5]," he said. "I just need to go out there and compete and get outs. I've been mostly a relief pitcher my whole Minor League career, so I'm pretty much used to it. It's just a matter of gaining more and more confidence. I just need to command my fastball and be more aggressive early in the count."
If Wright can do that, the Astros will have found that lefty reliever they've been seeking.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.